Tallest Ship Brings High Hopes to Littlest State

Oliver H. Perry by Onne Van der Wal

While the title of this post sounds a bit like a children’s story, it’s really all big business.

On January 23, 2009, Ariana Green wrote an article in the NY Times titled In Rhode Island, Hoping a Tall Ship Can Help a Sagging Economy about a nonprofit organization, Tall Ships Rhode Island, purchasing a less than half finished tall ship from a foundering Canadian organization with the hopes boosting their tiny states economy, among other things.

Tall ships in America got their start in Newport, RI back in 1973 when Barclay Warburton III, along with a group of like minded maritime enthusiasts including Bart Dunbar, also member of the current group, established a new nonprofit to advance the concept of sail training and organize the US Bicentennial Tall Ships Celebrations in 1976. The American Sail Training Association was founded and over the years has grown to become a national and international nonprofit whose mission is to “encourage character building through sail training, promote sail training to the North American public and support education under sail.” (I was the executive director of the ASTA from 2001 through 2006.)

Warburton and the ASTA founders actions were very important to the local community because up until 1973 Newport was a Navy town. However, in that year, the fleet left, the base was downsized significantly and Newport was left pondering a potentially dismal economic future. Tall Ships and the Americas Cup would end up saving the day by transforming the city into one of the sailing capital’s of the world and a maritime heritage tourism destination.

Fast forward 36 years and can the current group pull another miracle out of their duffle bag? Green writes:

As Rhode Island struggles with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, city and state officials hope that turning the hull into a tall ship will create jobs, attract tourists and spur interest in the state’s maritime history.

“Today cities realize they benefit from having a flagship for their community,” said Timothy Walker, who teaches maritime history at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. “It’s a way to be really visible and make an impression that can travel. It can literally fly the flag for a community.”

But not everyone is aboard with an optimistic assessment:

But Jeff Bolster, a professor of maritime history at the University of New Hampshire, said officials should not overestimate the economic contribution a ship project would make.

“A vessel of this scale is not going to be a huge help to the ailing economy,” Mr. Bolster said. “It has a modest operating budget, so it alone can’t solve the state’s fiscal problems in a major way.”

It will be all very interesting to watch. This is a very experienced group being led by Captain Richard Bailey who for years ran popular sail training programs aboard the HMS Rose until to she was sold to Fox to star in Master & Commander as the HMS Surprise. Today the Rose/Surprise is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum’s fleet of historic ships.

On the downside is that the Oliver Hazard Perry is a very large ship, second only to the USCGC Barque EAGLE in the United States. Ships this size are very costly to run and often difficult to fill. While nearly anyone who has sailed aboard a tall ship will vouch for it’s power in being a life changing experience, marketing the concept to wider public has always been challenging. The current projected cost of the project is $5 million and her scheduled launch is 2011, but I have yet to see a ship of this scale come in on budget and on time. Tall Ships Rhode Island has always been good at raising money and in this economy and for the foreseeable future, they have to really count on all of the contacts, connections and tricks they can pull out of their ditty bags.

This is a very exciting project for the City of Newport, the State of Rhode Island, the entire region and even the nation. While it seems pretty ambitious in scale, it’s no less so than what Barclay Warburton III pulled off in the early 1970’s. I bet he’s looking down and giving Tall Ships Rhode Island a big Huzzah for their efforts.

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Rocking the Boat’s WhiteHall Award

Rocking the Boat White Hall Awards 2008

Most Sea-Fever readers will know that I’m a big fan of the NYC based nonprofit Rocking the Boat. Here’s a link to some previous posts.

This Thursday they’ll be hosting their Annual Whitehall Award event which

recognize(s) leaders in the fields of experiential education, environmental activism, and youth development. The honor is named for the distinctively elegant and practical wooden boat design that forms the majority of Rocking the Boat’s hand-built fleet. The Whitehall represents a “golden period” of maritime design and craftsmanship, its reliable and beautiful form remaining largely consistent since 1690.

This year they’ll be honoring The Public Service Project at Stroock & Stroock  & Lavan LLP and here’s the good work that they do:

The Public Service Project is the cornerstone of Stroock’s longtime commitment to serving the public interest. Created in March 2001 after a century of pro bono service, the Public Service Project provides a broad array of legal assistance, with a special focus on underserved and under-resourced communities in New York City.

A principal goal of the Public Service Project has been to engage in more transactional pro bono work, advising non-profits engaged in serving and rebuilding communities in need.

Stroock’s representation of Rocking the Boat goes back to 2001, when RTB was first getting its oars in the water. Since that time, over two dozen different Stroock attorneys have worked on RTB’s behalf, contributing well over 400 hours of pro bono legal advice, valued at almost a quarter of a million dollars. Stroock has truly become full service general counsel to RTB, calling on lawyers from no fewer than ten departments, including: intellectual property, entertainment, insurance, non-profit, employment and tax. These lawyers have helped RTB with everything from commercial lease issues and environmental law to employment policies and general corporate law advice.

The event is being hosted at the beautiful New York Yacht Club thanks to the generous sponsorship of Stroock, Toyota, LexisNexis and Sims Metal Management. You can still purchase tickets to the event here.

Why am I such a fan of this organization? Read Steve Rappaport’s grat article Rocking the Boat – Old ways teach kids new life lessons in the current issue (Sept./Oct. 2008) of WoodenBoat magazine and you’ll see why.  (download via RTB website.)

If you really need more reason to get excited by this organization, then you better watch this. On second, thought, watch it anyway, you won’t be disappointed!

[GoogleVideo=http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3804036650927743103&ei=_yD9SKGgM5CYrAKhtozrDg&q=rocking+the+boat+bronx]
Building Kids: A short documentary about Rocking the Boat

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Bermuda Maritime Education Pilot Program

I haven’t been able to keep up my normal pace of posting over the past week mainly because a project that I’ve been working on at Northeast Maritime Institute (NMI) is about ready to launch. Here’s a link to an article by Bermuda Sun senior writer Meredith Ebbin which will give you a good snapshot of what our MATE (Maritime Apprentice Training and Employment) program is all about. (Pilot Program to train young seaman – May 23, 2008 ) Here’s a link to an earlier Royal Gazette article which provides even more background. (Young Bermudians get chance for careers at sea – July 19, 2008 )

NMI partners in this exciting and innovative program include the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, a youth development charity which owns and operates the sail training vessel, Spirit of Bermuda (above) and the Adult Education School, an alternative adult school that offers opportunities to persons 16 years and over who have failed to gain basic educational qualifications in the traditional system. NMI’s other partners in this initiative include Bermuda’s Marine & Ports, Maritime Administration and National Training Board.

The MATE program launches on June 2 in Bermuda with 3 weeks of STCW Basic Safety Training and Able Seaman’s classes, then the students will hop aboard the Spirit of Bermuda to sail to Fairhaven, MA where they will spend the next 9 weeks enraged in a rigorous academic and practical maritime education program.

Surprisingly for an island nation, Bermuda has lost contact with it’s rich maritime heritage. One of the MATE program’s objectives is to try to remedy this. But the most important outcome of this initiative will be that young Bermudians who have have fallen out the system will be provided with the education and skills training to pursue maritime careers at home or across the globe. It’s a very worthwhile project of which I’m really please to be a part.

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